One of the most enduring, versatile and popular performers ever to grace British television, legendary comedian Tommy Cannon has been delighting audiences for over sixty years and shows no signs of slowing down. Unlike many other performers of his generation, Cannon never had any interest in entering showbiz when he was growing up in Oldham. He could hold a note but never considered taking it any further than his family living room. However, meeting a certain Robert Harper in the welding factory where they both worked, proved a significant moment in Tommy’s life and a mutual love for singing would bring them closer together. Before long, Tommy and Robert began singing together around the pubs and clubs of Oldham. Having such natural chemistry, it wasn’t long before their unscripted banter between numbers became the most important part of their act and promptly put the newly named Cannon and Ball on the path to stardom.
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Throughout the sixties and seventies, there was a natural entertainment hierarchy which all performers upheld. Novice comedians could start their careers in working men’s clubs before moving onto nightclubs. Should they be successful on the nightclub circuit, they could graduate to the theatrical variety circuit which was one step away from the holy grail of television. Reaching this sought after audience was something that performers could only dream of and for Tommy who never seeked to enter into the glamorous world of British showbiz, this was a world away from his reality. Yet with Bobby’s enthusiasm together with a born gift of making people laugh, Tommy started to realise that they were in with a shout. Before too long, the pair decided to put their music to one side and solely concentrate on a career in comedy which unbeknown to either of them, would take them to places they could only dream of.
One of the biggest clubs on the northern working men’s club circuit was Bernard Manning’s Embassy Club in Manchester and a spot on there had the potential to transform the career of many comedians. Away from the controversy of his own act, Manning offered a platform to up and coming talent which extended to his ITV variety show The Wheeltappers and Shunters Club. Away from the bawdiness of the controversial host, the show was a mainstream variety show filmed in the confines of a working men’s club. Although Cannon and Ball’s appearance was a significant step forward in their career, the pair were adamant not to be tarnished with the same bigoted ideology as their host. Within a few seconds of their act, the audience realised that they were watching two men whose material was acceptable for all and the whole family would be able to appreciate their madcap sense of humour. Like everyone knows, Cannon and Ball’s material never offended or discriminated against anyone, nor was it subject to political agenda. It was just good clean, family fun.
This popularly put Cannon and Ball on the radar of the major television networks and in 1979 Head of Light Entertainment at LWT David Bell gave the pair an offer too good to turn down. For someone who had never dreamed of becoming famous, Tommy was now a star and together with the dynamic Bobby Ball was about to land one of the most prestigious roles in comedy. First broadcast on Saturday 28th July 1979, The Cannon and Ball reigned supreme across the ITV network for almost a decade and saw the guys collaborate with some of the most famous stars in the world. Under David Bell’s leadership, Cannon and Ball went from jobbing variety tunes to kings of Saturday night and everyone from Jimmy Tarbuck to Englebert Humperdinck lined up to appear on the highly popular show. In the era of the rise of Alternative Comedy, Cannon and Ball were able to remind the televisual audience of the magic of mainstream variety.
It’s only with the passing of time that Cannon realises the huge scale of this achievement and how special this era was on their own careers. Looking back on the viewing figures and the remarkable calibre of the guest stars, Tommy struggles to believe how him and Bobby did everything they did alongside world famous stars. Appearing alongside the legendary actor Charlton Heston became one of the moments where Tommy realised just how far the double act had come and for over a decade Cannon and Ball had the supreme power to pull in a regular average of 20 million viewers each Saturday night. In the challenging era when theatrical variety was considered dead, these shows illustrated the popularity and significance of traditional entertainment and the nation greatly benefited from it.
Their Light Entertainment dominance may have coincided with the final years of television Variety when sadly theatrical variety was dead, but there was never any doubt that Cannon and Ball were throwbacks to a simpler time. Like many Variety turns, Tommy and Bobby were the epitome of versatility and approached television in the same way as they’d conquered the clubs and pubs by using comedy and upbeat music to get the crowd on their side. The song Together We’ll Be OK perfectly epitomises Tommy and Bobby’s unique relationship and has since become a musical shorthand for everything they do. Of course this was made possible through their own musical backgrounds which were absolutely vital to their longevity and versatility.
Since Bobby’s death in 2020 this song has naturally taken on an extra emotional significance but when deciding to continue his comedy career, there was no way that Tommy would drop Together We’ll Be OK from his act. The reception he receives from audiences every time the band strikes up the first few notes gives him an enormous amount of comfort and reminds him of the many highs that Cannon and Ball enjoyed. Earlier this year Tommy teamed up with the Wogan based choir Local Vocals to record a modern take on the Cannon and Ball signature song in aid of Mind Lancashire which he’s hoping will be in the running for the Christmas Number One this year. It’s incredible that at 84 Tommy is hoping for his first prestigious Number One and it would be amazing if he should achieve it.
Beyond music, Tommy is still one of the most in demand performers on the circuit and his relentless schedule cements this. His new show An Audience With Tommy Cannon provides a chance for him to relive some of the greatest moments from his sixty year career and pay tribute to his beloved Bobby Ball. Preserving Bobby’s memory and celebrating the huge contribution that they both made to entertainment has formed the motivation for this next chapter of Cannon’s career. He’s definitely not a solo performer and everything he does is exclusively to celebrate the massive achievements of Cannon and Ball. It was one of my greatest pleasures to welcome the legendary Tommy Cannon onto Beyond The Title and at the tender age of 84, the whole nation remains excited to see his next accomplishment. A true legend!